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Sunday, November 25, 2012

mocking up

Here we go, even the humble pollock fish is now doing some impersonating. It's become the great stand in for baby eels, sometimes called elvers and called angulas in Spain. It's been going on for years and thank goodness as the real eels are very overpriced and just about impossible to find. A sad reflection on changing ocean habitat and over fishing.

Young fresh eels of about 2-3 years and about three inches long are the thickness of a spaghetti strand and if you could find them in the fish markets they would fetch well over 1,000 Euros per kilo. But, having said that, authentic angulas can still be found in cans but are of course very expensive and not anything like their fresh counterpart.

Come in the 'gulas' made of pollock fish. Pollock is fished in both European and Alaskan waters
and turned into mock angulas then renamed, gulas. This product is readily available all over Spain and some parts of France. In both countries they are sold in cans, jars and vacuum packs. Auchan, the big supermarket chain in France, sells gulas but that is the only place I could find them. 

I've eaten mock gulas on countless tapas without knowing there was anything mock about them. So if they do taste anything like the real thing, as I have read they do, then that's okay by me. They are delicious.

Gulas are served on diagonal sliced bread and topped with a little mayonnaise and charred red pepper slices. This is a common tapa/pintxos in Spain and especially in the Basque country. See my recipe for this under TAPAS.

Wanting a change and wanting to bring out the true flavour of my mock friends I tried the following:

Makes 8 tapas:

1 clove garlic finely sliced
1 small fresh red chilli finely sliced
1 tablespoon grape-seed oil
8 heaped tablespoons gulas


Heat a small frying pan, add the oil, heat it and cook the garlic and chilli for a few minutes until softened then add the gulas. Toss all the ingredients together until everything has warmed though.

Twist the eels onto the prongs of a fork and carefully prise them off onto an “Asian” serving spoon. Continue until they are all used up. Sit the spoons in shallow bowls for support as they are inclined to slip off. The gulas tapa presented like this look striking served on coloured spoons.

The warming process, with the addition of garlic and chilli, brings out the flavour and leaves a more  succulent taste and texture in the mouth. 

Good luck finding gulas in your country but don't despair if you don't live in Spain. I have seen them in tins way over here in Australia, namely in the department store David Jones and in some Spanish outlet stores. I've seen 'real' angulas in tins here too. If buying the tins check whether they are gulas or angulas. The price difference is enormous.

Friday, November 16, 2012

tomato, quail egg & goat's curd tapa

A tapa with a difference!

This is a simple yet delicious little dish that can be put together quickly. Allow at least 45 minutes from start to end for draining and cooking. They can be served at room temperature if you need to make them in advance otherwise serve them straight from the oven.

Serves: 6


6 small tomatoes but not cherry tomatoes - they are too small
1 x 200gm goat's curd
6 quail eggs
50gm unsalted butter
Sea salt and cracked black pepper
Any little green leaf for garnish


Cut a tiny slice off the top of each tomato so they are able to sit up without rolling over. Cut another slice off the base end of each one and remove the seeds and membrane with a small spoon.

Leave the tomatoes to drain thoroughly, upside down, on kitchen paper for at least 30 minutes.

Fill each tomato with a spoonful of soft goat's curd, to about the three quarter mark.

Crack a quail egg into the top of each tomato.

Grease a small overproof pan and place the six tomatoes inside.

Bake at 180C until the quail egg is set. Roughly this takes about 6-7 minutes but watch them closely. You don't want to overcook the eggs.

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a small pan and cook until just on browning point. Don't let it burn. Remove from the heat and set aside.

Place the tomatoes on little dishes. Drizzle with hot butter, sprinkle with sea salt and a few grindings of black pepper, add the garnish and serve immediately.

I like to provide small (children's) cutlery with hot tapas even though and in this case, the whole tomato can be placed in the mouth.

NB. If goat's curd is unavailable substitute with a small piece of goat's cheese.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

pimientos del piquilla tapas

The very mention of the name Pimientos del Piquilla has one watering at the mouth. These tiny peppers, about 8 centimetres in length, grow along the Ribera river flats in the Navarra region of northern Spain. An area well known to pilgrims on the camino, the way of St James. It's the first valley on their long trail to Santiago after they leave the Roncesvalles pass in the mighty Pyrénées.

The peppers are wood fired, skinned, seeded and marketed as a preserve. But, the intensive manual labour doesn't come cheap in the processing plant - woman are employed to scrape away every last piece of charred skin.

The raw peppers impart a bitter taste but once charred coal black their flesh acquires an exquisite flavour and their true characteristic becomes apparent. Transformed they become sweet, succulent and aromatic.The smokey tang from the wood fire and the spicy hot nature of these small, dark, heart shaped, red peppers compliment many ingredients. They have become an essential component in the world of the tapa.

The wonderful thing about making up tapas is you don't need to stick to specifics. Do your own thing, mix and match. Here I've opted for a pretty traditional and typical tapa found all over Spain. But not in a position to have Jamon Serrano or Jamon Iberico at my fingertips here in Australia I've substituted prosciutto and really, they are just as delicious. Well, almost...well maybe not quite.


French bread stick cut on the diagonal
Pimientos del Pequilla or substitute charred, skinned and seeded red capsicum
white anchovy
brown anchovy
quail egg - optional

Note: Pimientos del Piquilla are very low on the Scovill scale count (the chilli richter scale). In other words, they are not hot.

(photographs taken in our kitchen in the Hunter Valley)

Thursday, November 1, 2012

tapa celebration

The food vine cannot congratulate itself for many posts since April I'm afraid, the evidence being as plain as day. And there I was thinking five months in France would allow me the leisure time I was so looking forward to: to cook, read and write. Oh how I wish.

But the flip side in lacking time to express my culinary leanings meant spending many precious days with old and new friends, returning to San Sebastian, twice, our favourite city and getting to know a little bit about Corsica, a new love in our lives.

Now back in Australia, France seems a whole world away. It's back to busy days at our property in the Hunter Valley, back with fresh thoughts on food blogging and back with the early beginnings of
a new book in my head. No, not SECOND or LAST, this one's about the Basque country.

I gave San Sebastian a reasonable mention in my cookbook FIRST so while it's still in my mind I thought I'd start the next phase on the food vine with tapas. I'd love to say a tapa a day but that might be pushing it.

The world of miniature food is not just synonymous with Spain. It's spread across all cultures – Greece, the Middle East, north Africa, Asia, Japan and as far away as Scandinavia - and so on. It seems they all have their own version of small dishes in a different guise to that of the tapa but they amount to the same thing. But, standing in bars may not be one of them. No matter the culture miniature food can be anything from simple appetisers to an elaborate range of preparations forming an entire meal. The parallel is we all love eating this way.

But we give credit to the Spanish who have put miniature food on the world map with their tapas, or pintxos/pinchos as they are called in the Basque county. Locals and tourists alike make personal pilgrimages to their favourite bars and not to just one. Bar crawling is part of the ritual.

The informality of a loud and buzzy bar is very appealing. No standing on ceremony, no dress rules, eating as much or as little as one likes. Personally selecting mouthfuls of delicious food from a sea of tiny, savoury morsels punctuated only with glasses of cool, delicious Spanish wine is as good as it gets.

Tapas need not be traditional. There's a whole host of bars now competing for first prize in the modern tapa movement. The reinvention of the traditional tapa with innovation and style at affordable prices is where San Sebastian comes into its own. Bars such as Borda Berri, Zeruko, A Fuego Negro and La Cuchara de San Telmo are to name a few. Here are their addresses in the old city, the Parte Vieja, just in case you get there before me:

Borda Berri: 12 Fermin Calbeton
Zeruko: 10 Calle Pescaderia
La Cuchara de San Telmo: 28 Corredor San Telmo off Calle Agosto
A Fuego Negro: 31 Calle de Agosto

My love of Spain, its culture, food and wine is a fine way to celebrate the food vine's fourth birthday posting. I've gone for a modern bent, not a traditional one.


one big, fat scallop without coral per head
1 slice of prosciutto per head
Dash of grape-seed oil for the pan
1 x quarter cauliflower broken into florets
salt and white pepper
2 tablespoons thick cream
A little garnish of your choice
Extra virgin olive oil to garnish
Sea salt to garnish


Steam the cauliflower for 10-15 minutes until soft, remove from heat.
Place the cauliflower in a food blender with the cream, salt and pepper and whizz to achieve a smooth purée.

Wrap a slice of prosciutto around the middle of each scallop and secure with a toothpick. You may need to cut the prosciutto to size so it completely covers the sides of the scallop. Remove any straggly ends.

Heat a frying pan then add the oil. Sear the scallops on each side until they are cooked, two the three minutes. You might need to turn them on their sides using a circular motion to ensure the prosciutto is cooked all the way round.

Smear a little cauliflower purée onto a gleaming white plate, place the scallop on top.
Garnish with a herb flower, salt salt and drizzle a tiny amount of extra virgin olive oil over the top.

(photograph taken in our kitchen in south west France)